So, there’s another consultation document on the Research Excellence Framework — “the new arrangements for the assessment and funding of research in UK higher education institutions that will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)”. A wonderful document indeed, literate and elegantly written, revealing much thought and reflection on the nature of the university in the best traditions of Arnold and Leavis. Of course. Still, perhaps it isn’t quite what we might hope for.
Ok, ok, I jest. It isn’t at all what we might hope for, though it is the sort of egregious crap we’ve come to expect. How about this, for example: “As an indication of our current thinking we propose the following weightings” (between different components of assessment); “Outputs: 60 per cent. Impact: 25 per cent. Environment: 15 per cent.” Hold on! Impact? Impact? What’s that?
Well, the document gives “a common menu of impact indicators” under various headings to help us out. Here are the headings …
- Delivering highly skilled people [as evidenced e.g. by “Staff movement between academia and industry, Employment of post-doctoral researchers in industry or spin-out companies”.]
- Creating new businesses, improving the performance of existing businesses, or commercialising new products or processes
- Attracting R&D investment from global business
- Better informed public policy-making or improved public services
- Improved patient care or health outcomes
- Progress towards sustainable development, including environmental sustainability
- Cultural enrichment, including improved public engagement with science and research
- Improved social welfare, social cohesion or national security
- Other quality of life benefits
Right. Let me see if I understand. If you are a medieval historian, an editor of Euripides, a Shakespeare scholar, or indeed just a logician trying to understand the philosophical significance of Gentzen’s work on the consistency of arithmetic, then 25% of your score in son-of-RAE is going to be for “impacts” utterly irrelevant to your projects and concerns?
I’m being unfair, you say: arts subjects at least get into the frame under the heading “Cultural enrichment”. You might think so: but in fact we are told that possible indicators of that are — I kid you not — “Increased levels of public engagement with science and research (for example, as measured through surveys). Changes to public attitudes to science (for example, as measured through surveys). Enriched appreciation of heritage or culture (for example, as measured through surveys). Audience/participation levels at public dissemination or engagement activities (exhibitions, broadcasts and so on). Positive reviews or participant feedback on public dissemination or engagement activities.” Yep, and we are also told that impact does not include “we do not intend to include impact through intellectual influence on scientific knowledge and academia”.
Ah, there’s a chink of light perhaps: not everyone is to be ranked for impact, if I’ve got it right? — a department’s return will rather involve a series of “case-studies” of impactful individuals. Well, yes, you can just see the guys and gals in M&E sitting around trying to find a smidgin of impact somewhere between them.
Brilliant. Well, I know will happen; you know what will happen; HEFCE no doubt know what will happen when traditional humanities departments come to fill in the impact case studies on which 25% of their overall rating is going to depend.
They’ll have to bullshit.
Added later. My jest about the M&E contingent having a bit of difficulty cooking up an impact statement was truer than I realized. Eric Schliesser, currently at Leiden, writes in a comment on the Leiter blog that “in places where ‘impact’ is already playing a prominent role (say, in Netherlands and Flanders), certain subjects (e.g., analytic metaphysics,) have very little chance to receive coveted research grants (now almost the sole source for PhD funding). Yesterday, Michael della Rocca gave a terrific talk on the three-dimensionalism vs four-dimensionalism debate. It generated great discussion. But the people in attendance were hard-pressed to name a sole Dutch philosopher who is working on the topic … Of course, other subjects (e.g., philosophy of technology, applied ethics, decision theory, semantics, logic, normative ethics, etc) have an easier time in articulating the impact factor and are generously funded.”